Denied access to prisons

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Barb Sweet
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NDP justice critic wanted to visit Clarenville, Stephenville facilities

Gerry Rogers — File photo

The NDP critic for justice said she was shut out of two prisons during a recent trip across the province.

St. John’s Centre MHA Gerry Rogers said she made the request to prison officials a week before embarking on a trip across the province earlier this month for public sessions on housing concerns and other meetings on the various critic areas she covers.

But she was turned down by Justice Minister Felix Collins’ communications office and her appeal to Collins didn’t work.

The denial is unacceptable, said Rogers, who said she didn’t have a problem visiting prisons in a previous capacity. The well-known advocate and filmmaker was first elected in the fall.

“In order to be able to do my role effectively and fully as I have been elected by the people of the province, I need to have access to these facilities, Rogers said.

Correctional centres ‘not public buildings,’ department responds

“I don’t know why this would happen. I am concerned about it in order to do my job fully and in a comprehensive manner. My hope as justice critic is to be able to work hand in hand with the Department of Justice,” Rogers said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice told The Telegram Rogers asked to visit the West Coast Correctional Centre in Stephenville and the Newfoundland and Labrador Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville.

“Correctional centres are not public buildings,” the spokeswoman said in an email response.

“These are secure facilities that house inmates who are either on remand for an alleged crime or who have been sentenced for a particular crime.  Tours can offer a number of logistical hurdles. The most significant of these challenges would be our ability to put in place appropriate safeguards to ensure security for visitors and to protect the privacy of inmates as not all of an inmate’s rights are taken away by virtue of their incarceration.”

The spokeswoman said Stephenville and Clarenville prisons are smaller facilities than Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP) and have a more open atmosphere, “therefore making it difficult to offer tours.”

  According to Justice, HMP is better suited to tours, because the department can limit interaction with inmates. 

The department said it offered to meet with Rogers to answer any questions she has about the two facilities, but has not heard back from her.

Rogers doesn’t accept the first  excuse she was given about not being able to tour the two facilities — that it was too short notice. Nor does she buy the privacy concerns, as prisoners who don’t want to speak don’t have to.

She is willing to talk with Collins about justice issues, but said  it’s not right to prevent her from doing the job she was elected to do.

Rogers said she will continue to listen to prisoner and staff concerns even if she’s denied access to the facilities.

During her travels in Stephenville, she heard the concerns of Robert Maher.

Maher, 28, a recovering addict, had a troubled childhood capped with marijuana use that started at age 11, but said he fell into a cocaine addiction while working on oil rigs in Alberta.

He is in a halfway house after being sentenced in April 2011 to 30 months in the West Coast Correctional Centre on 37 charges, including 17 related to fraud.

In a story The Weekend Telegram, Maher shared a number of complaints about the condition of the Stephenville prison and the lack of activities there.

Justice responded to The Telegram to say problems with mould have been addressed, renovations are mostly complete and recreation facilities — library, gym and hobby shop — are operational.

Even before she met Maher, Rogers had wanted to view the facility and hear concerns of prisoners there and meet with staff delivering programs.

“The issues that Mr. Maher has highlighted are issues that cause me concern and they  have to be verified,” Rogers said.

And she said in Clarenville, the cells are around a large open common area and the prisoners who didn’t want to meet her could have stayed away, so there was no privacy issue.

“These prisons are in my critic area,” Rogers said, adding the goal of the prison system should be to increase the likelihood of rehabilitation.

“In order to do that we have to have an open, transparent system.”

Rogers also said she’s gotten calls from people who have requested sentences longer than two years so they can access federal programming. She’s also fielded calls about the way mental health issues are dealt with in the system.

“If we are simply warehousing inmates, not providing them with the types of programs that will help them with their addictions issues, then it’s going to be simply a revolving door and we see that,” Rogers said.

“In the work I have done in the prisons, I have seen young men begging for help with their addictions, knowing full well if they don’t get help with their addictions they are going to reoffend.”

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Organizations: NDP, Department of Justice, West Coast Correctional Centre Newfoundland and Labrador Correctional Centre for Women

Geographic location: Stephenville, Clarenville, Alberta.He

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Recent comments

  • FredfromCBS
    February 27, 2012 - 23:10

    What a bunch of hooey from the corrections contact. Has she never seen "Scared Straight" or the Agnes MacPhail mini-history vignette on TV? Of course these are public buildings when you consider the role of Ms. Rogers, acting in an official capacity and a Justice Ministry critic. The only reason she should not be admitted is if there was a lockdown or some other such inconvenience...

  • Bob
    February 27, 2012 - 10:41

    OMG...do we have to listen to Gerry Rogers complain again. There must be something right in this province. Send her over to Iraq or Saudi Arabia and she will find out we have it good here. Hate to hear constant whiners in the news! They must not be happy at home!

  • Snowbird
    February 27, 2012 - 10:04

    I support Gerry! She has her finger on the pulse about ALOT of current social issues. Gerry is probably the closest representative to direct democracy Newfoundland will ever see!

  • Comfort
    February 27, 2012 - 09:33

    Come on Gerry,if these people want the comfort of sitting on the sofa,watching TV in comfort or even have the freedom that others have,well do the right thing.My son is 15 when I send him to his room or take away his all allowance,believe me I do just that.I don,t send him to his room to play XBox or to have lunch,he,s there to spend time for something he may have done.We all had hard times growing up but there comes a time to smarten p also.we get tired of listening to the poor shape that our prison is in.If you want to live in a half decent home,get a job straighten your life out,it's your choice.

  • Tom
    February 27, 2012 - 08:38

    What a crock. Any law enforcement or law related class gets access to the prisons for a tour. I have been on the tour twice. Funny how there was no concern with inmates privacy then. Both times I was on a morning tour, around 10am and the security concerns were not there. They simply locked all the prisoners in there cells and let us walk through seeing the hole that HMP is. Listen up Dunderdale. We the people elected you. We are the bosses. Not you. You rode Danny's coat tails in to win your spot as the head PC. The sooner you ride it out the better. I am so sick of our elected idiots dictating to us how things are going to be. It is our money, our resources, our buildings. Do what we have elected you to do.

  • Don
    February 27, 2012 - 08:02

    Has anybody noticed that the favorite word Gerry Rogers, Lorraine Michaels,Yvonne Jones, and others in their parties use today is --- Unacceptable. It appears that everything the government says or does is "Unacceptable." Come on girls , time to think up a new word. You are becoming very boring.

    • Nanette
      February 27, 2012 - 11:40

      They are not "girls." They are women.

  • P F Murphy
    February 27, 2012 - 07:56

    Rogers is not a member of the Public on a site seeing tour. She is a member of the House of Assembly which is in charge of running our all of our province. If the members of the Opposition are denied seeing the conditions, good or bad, in our prisons, how can they take an informed position in discussing them for us, the tax payers, in the House. Instead of denying Rogers entry, the Justice Minister should admit her to help him achieve the best informed discussion of what should or could be done for our prisons and inmates and the best just of our tax dollars.

  • George
    February 27, 2012 - 07:21

    Hey Gerry, Privacy isn't just about whether or not people want to talk to you. Just the fact that you are walking through and you see them incarcerated will embarrass some people. People get released from prison everyday. If you want to speak with prisoners about conditions why don't try to reach some just after release. Maybe you should stick to filmmaking. elected a few months ago and all of a sudden you are an expert on corrections. What a joke. That's the problem with our elected officials. They get elected and they and their parties think all of a sudden they are experts in all things. Guess what. You are not and we don't care your uneducated opinion.

    • Mike
      February 27, 2012 - 09:32

      Uh, I think you may be a bit delusional. There are tours ALL the time in prisons. This particular woman is tasked with looking into prison reform. This is an attempt to keep anyone from messing with King Harper's plans. Period. Don't worry, the dirt on his party hasn't even started to come out yet. Stay tuned for proof in the robocall scandal and some even worse dirt when he thinks it can't get any worse. Its all been organized for months. We are taking back the country.

    • Nanette
      February 27, 2012 - 11:52

      George, Ms. Rogers has an obligation as NDP Critic for Justice to know as much as possible about what is going on inside our prisons. I commend her for wanting to see the living conditions of the prisoners firsthand so she will know exactly of what she speaks.

  • darls
    February 27, 2012 - 07:11

    if a building is being paid for by the public then it's a public building...what are the PC's trying to hide....now i really don't care too much because if you are a criminal you should be treated like one and if you want to complain about prison conditions...then DON'T DO THE CRIME....simple hey....cheers

  • sandy
    February 27, 2012 - 07:06

    after reading this artical it doesn't surprise me that this woman was turned away from entering the prison's here in newfoundland, actually i think it's sad and unprofessional that there are people out there willing to help improve the living conditions in our prison's and our government officals are ignoring them........what is going on here???? something isn't right and i hope that Mrs. Rogers gets to the bottom of it cause there is something not right behind thoses prison walls where people are calling home.